SO, the Hastings main Post Office branch is to close in March of this year, and the ‘business’ transferred to counters in WH Smith in Priory Meadow.
I have worked in retail design for 25 years (mostly big, commercial High Street clients), and I know it’s not just about the space within shops, but the whole environment around them, and the social and commercial impact they have on an area as a whole.
The Post Office isn’t just a counter, it’s was an essential social hub. I always found this branch to be a really well-maintained, efficient, friendly and professional space, the staff are fantastic and it’s an invaluable, essential resource for the many small independent new businesses around the Claremont Triangle (like mine) and the shoppers and retailers of central Hastings.
Without it, that corner and the throughway to Bohemia Road will die.
Anyone who thinks that a counter at WH Smith will suffice is sorely mistaken. I have never found one that works, and nobody I know in my profession has ever had a good experience of one.
The UK arm of WH Smith is struggling already. The Priory Meadow store is a bleak, poorly designed, claustrophobic space with dreadful layout, demoralised or indifferent staff and limited space for any new counters, even if it expands into other units.
I suspect it sees the absorption of the post office business as an essential lifeline for a dying retailer - hardly the best ethos.
Having a high street Post Office is part of the retail landscape of the UK, we all feel that we ‘own’ it. That’s why we use it but its absorption into a branded retail commercial space just devalues it to nothing, it will push people towards private services or online and chip away another part of the social structure that binds towns together and gives them their identity.
Post Offices are not just about counters and services, they are an essential part of our ‘big’ society (and not just ‘big’ business). You can’t do everything online and you need dedicated space for dedicated services, yet all we are seeing is constant whittling away, selling off, monetising and asset stripping while the consumer gets left behind.
Losing the Post Office is not just a human tragedy, it’s potentially a commercial disaster for Hastings. That might sound like overstated hysteria but it is already happening all over the UK in other towns.
I’d like to thank everyone who fought the campaign to save the Post Office, and I’m sorry you failed. Frankly, I never expected you to succeed, this was a done deal from the start. Public ‘consultation’ is a sham. This town really deserves better representation, someone focused on the town rather than Westminster, before it’s too late.
RICHARD DE PESANDO